There’s no containing Rick Renteria’s optimism for 2020 White Sox

“We want to fight for the postseason,” Renteria said. “We want to win a division [or] be a wild card, whatever the case might be.”

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White Sox manager Rick Renteria. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

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White Sox manager Rick Renteria is fired up.

He has been since the end of the 2019 season after the Sox finished 72-89. And that was before they invested more than $200 million in player contracts over the next four seasons.

Renteria’s excitement over the Sox’ possibilities for 2020 — the chance to finally be a winner after seven straight losing seasons and three in a rebuild — crescendoed with each passing offseason addition: catcher Yasmani Grandal, right fielder Nomar Mazara, left-handers Gio Gonzalez and Dallas Keuchel, designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion and right-hander Steve Cishek. 

And after being stationed at the Sox’ spring-training facility in Glendale, Arizona, the last three days, with bats cracking and players chattering during a hitters camp, with Grandal working in the cage with first-round picks Nick Madrigal and Andrew Vaughn, Renteria continued to bang the Sox’ drum.

“We want to fight for the postseason,” Renteria said on a conference call Wednesday. “We either want to win a division [or] be a wild card, whatever the case might be.

‘‘Either one will do. Anything shy of that shouldn’t be a goal.

“Again, I’ll repeat this. If anybody is afraid of setting expectations, this is not a place to be. It’s about winning, ultimately, and the organization has done a great job to put us on better footing to give us a chance to do that.”

A blend of young talent featuring left fielder Eloy Jimenez, shortstop Tim Anderson, third baseman Yoan Moncada, right-handers Lucas Giolito, Dylan Cease and Michael Kopech and left-hander Aaron Bummer to go along with veteran first baseman Jose Abreu, closer Alex Colome and catcher James McCann paints the picture of a rebuild on better footing. 

Ticket sales are up, fans are eager for SoxFest next weekend and expectations are higher than they’ve been since Renteria took over for Robin Ventura after the 2016 season.

What’s more, top prospects Luis Robert, who signed a $50 million extension, as well as Madrigal and Vaughn are waiting in the wings to jump on the Sox’ victory train. Robert figures to make the Opening Day starting lineup; Madrigal figures to get called up early in the season to play second base.

“Wow,” Renteria said. “Watching [Madrigal] swing the bat yesterday, I’m amazed at his bat-to-ball skills. It’s incredible.”

Vaughn might be only a year away from every-day first-base and designated-hitter duties, but for now, it’s Encarnacion, who has slugged 414 homers in his career.

That will do.

“You can’t see me, but the smile on my face is pretty big,” Renteria said of his new DH.

And what of Keuchel’s and Gonzalez’s veteran presence added to the rotation?

“Oh, gosh,” Renteria gushed. “Again, more experience and success. Guys that have been in a lot of battles.” 

Renteria, who has come under some scrutiny for ordering bunts during a time when successful teams bunt sparingly, if at all, says his managing philosophy isn’t going to change with a better roster.

“I still love limitless baseball, which means you want everybody able to do anything they are capable of doing,” he said. “That is simply players performing, whether it’s stealing a base, bunting, hitting the ball out of the ballpark.’’

What changes now, Renteria said, is the confidence level bolstered by veteran leadership in the lineup and rotation.

What must change somehow in 2020 is the level of defensive play. In 2019, the Sox ranked 25th among 30 teams in runs saved, according to FanGraphs. When spring training begins in four weeks, “we are going to talk about [defense] from Day 1 here in camp,” Renteria said.

All in the name of winning, which hasn’t happened on the South Side since 2012, when the Sox were 85-77. A postseason hasn’t happened since 2008. Renteria says it’s time. And he is more than ready to win.

“Everyone in major sports wants to win, and that’s what we want to do,” Renteria said. “Our expectation is to win.”

NOTE: The Sox signed infielder-outfielder Andrew Romine to a minor-league deal, a source confirmed. Romine played nine positions in a game in 2017 for the Tigers.

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